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Potential Reasons for Lingering Leg Pain Following a Microdiscectomy


A microdiscectomy is a fairly common type of spine surgery, and it’s one that often produces beneficial results, including a noticeable decrease in discomfort. However, some patients may have lingering leg pain—one of the classic symptoms associated with spinal nerve irritation—after microdiscectomy surgery. This article explains some of the potential reasons this may be the case.

The Affected Nerve Root May Need Some Time to Heal

One reason your leg may still hurt after microdiscectomy surgery is because of the way compression can affect nerve roots. For instance, if a herniated disc was irritating a nerve for a while before your surgery, it could take a few weeks or more for the affected part of the nerve to fully heal and recover. However, if leg pain continues after 2 or 3 months, talk to your doctor or surgeon.

The Initial Diagnosis Might Have Been Incorrect

According to
Spine Health, the top reason for leg pain after a microdiscectomy or similar decompression procedure is an incorrect initial diagnosis. It's not always easy to precisely diagnose the symptoms related to nerve irritation around the spine. If the source of your discomfort wasn't accurately diagnosed, a nerve that sends signals to your legs may still be compressed. Finding the actual source of your discomfort following an initial microdiscectomy may involve:

• Specialized nerve tests
• Diagnostic injections to see if numbing other nerves in the same area relieves your leg pain
• Discussing your symptoms in greater detail
• Image diagnostics or procedures such as using a special dye to track nerve pathways

There May Be a Secondary Pain Source

Leg pain stemming from a spine-adjacent nerve may still continue after surgery if a secondary source is causing discomfort. For example, in addition to the herniated disc that was treated with a microdiscectomy, you might also have nerve irritation related to inflammation near the sciatic nerve. One possible source of this type of secondary nerve irritation is piriformis syndrome, which refers to issues with a muscle deep within the buttocks called the piriformis muscle. In this instance, treating the secondary source of pain may involve massage therapy, medication, and similar nonsurgical options.

It Could Be Due to Scar Tissue or Other Possibilities

Postoperative leg pain is sometimes caused by the formation of scar tissue. While rare, this can happen within the surgical site where the microdiscectomy was performed. Scar tissue forms with all surgeries, but it sometimes becomes an issue if it forms around a nerve root. This problem is often resolved with physical therapy, although minor surgery may be needed in some situations. Additional potential reasons for postoperative leg pain following a microdiscectomy include:

• Herniation of another disc that wasn't herniated prior to surgery
• Nerve damage that occurred during the surgery
• A failure to remove enough disc material during the microdiscectomy

There Are Various Treatment Options

A second surgery may be discussed, but it's not always necessary or appropriate, especially if there's a secondary pain source involving soft tissues. In fact, in many situations, it's often possible to treat or manage lingering leg pain following a microdiscectomy with nonsurgical techniques. In some instances, though, another
herniated disc surgery procedure may eventually be discussed and recommended.

Although microdiscectomy surgery is generally a very successful procedure, a hole is left in the outer wall of the disc. Patients with a large hole in the outer ring of the disc are more than twice as likely to reherniate after surgery. A new treatment, Barricaid, which is a bone-anchored device proven to reduce reherniations, was specifically designed to close the large hole often left in the spinal disc after microdiscectomy. In a large-scale study, 95 percent of Barricaid patients didn’t undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and doesn’t require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment or how to get access to Barricaid, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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